A home base for independent workers

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April 11, 2013
By: Mike Munzenrider
Jackie Menne, founder of the coworking space Joule.
By Mike Munzenrider
Mike Munzenrider
Coworking hub offers sense of community for people working on their own

“The challenge is that all of us are hidden,” said Jackie Menne, referring to those workers who populate coffee shops and out-of-sight home offices. “We’re kind of everywhere and nowhere.”

Menne, a 20-year-veteran of the design and marketing world, who chiefly worked from home and restaurants throughout that time, sought a solution to the isolation and feeling of “nowhere” that can come with that territory.

In September of 2010 she opened Joule, a coworking space on the edge of downtown, whose namesake, that “unit of work or energy done by a force of one,” as explained by Joule’s website, is to evoke the possibility that comes from bringing formerly hidden workers together.

Coworking, which is based around the idea of putting independent workers into a shared workplace that has all the amenities of a more traditional office, is a relatively new concept.

A 2011 survey conducted by Deskmag, a Berlin based online coworking magazine, found that in 2006, there were only 30 coworking spaces, worldwide. According to the survey, that number has doubled each successive year.

Menne was ahead of the curve when it comes to coworking; her first conception of the idea that would become Joule occurred a decade ago.

She first thought of creating a shared workplace, she said, after a catalog project on which she’d worked long and hard was stymied by the anthrax scare following the attacks of 9/11. The catalogs were never delivered.

“So I thought, you know, enough of this,” Menne said. “I’m going to do something different, I’m really tired of being home alone, I like being around other people.”

Menne found a space, smaller than her current location though nearby it, and began to build it out. Almost immediately, contractors found asbestos, and that incarnation of her business plan was brought to a “screeching halt.”

Following that first bump in the road, Menne would face family illness back in Ohio and return to the “ebb and flow of the maze of jobs.”

By 2009, Menne’s business decisions would once again come down to a catalog project. Upon its completion, she watched the “implosion” of the marketing world, and once more decided it was time to try something new.

“I thought, time to diversify, dusted off the business plan and within six months I’d opened the doors,” Menne said.

Joule is located on the eastern edge of downtown, couched between Washington Avenue and Interstate 35W. It’s housed in an old University of Minnesota supercomputing building, which is also home to offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Having members who commute from all over the metro area, Menne said Joule’s location is all about centrality, but also because the building has off-street parking.

“When I run in somewhere from home, I’m usually running a little late but close to the wire, and just need somewhere that’s convenient,” Menne said, on the importance of available parking.

Inside, Joule occupies some 4,000 square feet of workspace. The main room can simulate the coffee shop experience, with the usual table and chair configurations, along with a lounge area complete with a fireplace.

The main room has sectioned off, private spaces as well as a separate meeting room. Down the hall there are showers, a fitness room with a pingpong table, a larger meeting room, and upstairs, a kitchen and outdoor patio.

Throughout, Menne said there is Wi-Fi at second to top-tier speeds, and she offers large monitors for members’ presentation needs.

Joule is open to members from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. and free to their guests. The space is available after 5 p.m., by appointment, because, Menne said, afterhours can typically be devoted to networking events.

“We have member roundtables every month so that members can get to meet each other and also have that peer to peer discussion that you just don’t get that chance to have, normally, with someone else,” Menne said.

Other events include, “Marketing Mondays,” and “Tech Tuesdays,” as well as a meeting in which members can work on their public speaking.

“We have a group so you can practice [speaking] in front of your peers, versus the mirror,” Menne said.

Nick Rosener, who does work for his company Tech Nick Consulting at Joule, said some of his favorite things about coworking there are the abilities to discuss ideas with other people and make connections.

He also backs up Menne as someone who can create community.

“Jackie is one of the best networkers I’ve ever met,” Rosener said.

Colette DeHarpporte, who runs her business Laser Classroom both out of her home and Joule, said having the coworking space as an option makes her feel more professional. The community aspect is integral for her as well.

“[It gets] me out of my own head and just talking to the walls, to having somebody to bounce something off of,” DeHarpporte said.

Menne said Joule currently has about 150 members, with plenty of room for more.

“The beauty of the model is that we can hold probably double that, because people come and go,” she said.

As for the make up of her membership, Menne caters to a diverse crowd.

“We’re about equal men to women. We have the young ones just out of college that are start-ups, to seniors,” she said. “We’re a very eclectic bunch, but most of everyone is a business owner versus an e-worker.”

Moving forward, Menne said she hopes to expand the Joule community.

“Our goal was to get this one open, figure out the bumps, and then look for satellites,” she said. “North, south, east, west; I live in St Paul, so of course my vote is for somewhere east.”

Menne said, “if you’re a member of one, [you’ll be] a member of all,” which works well with her philosophy at Joule.

“At home you’re plugged into one outlet, but here we’re a power strip, where lots of other people plug in. We’re more powerful,” she said.

Reach Mike Munzenrider at mikemunzenrider@gmail.com.